Once taboo, Germans’ criticisms of Israel grow louder

The New York Times reports: To judge by the outpouring of comments from politicians and writers and from the newspaper and magazine articles in response to the Nobel laureate Günter Grass’s poem criticizing Israel’s aggressive posture toward Iran, it would appear that the public had resoundingly rejected his work.

But even a quick dip into the comments left by readers on various Web sites reveals quite another reality.

Mr. Grass has struck a nerve with the broader public, articulating frustrations with Israel here in Germany that are frequently expressed in private but rarely in public, where the discourse is checked by the lingering presence of the past. What might have remained at the family dinner table or the local bar a generation ago is today on full display, not only in Mr. Grass’s poem, but on Web forums and in Facebook groups.

One word has surfaced consistently in such discussions: “keule,” which means club or cudgel. The charge of anti-Semitism aimed at Israel’s critics — and in the case of Mr. Grass, by bringing up his past as a member of the Waffen-SS — is widely viewed as a blunt instrument that silences debate, and in the process prevents Mr. Grass from making a point about the dangers of a first strike by Israel against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

“Every time you speak out and say something that isn’t superpolitically correct, there is a 99 percent chance that you are regarded as right wing,” said Moritz Eggert, a composer based in Munich. Mr. Eggert posted his own musical interpretation of Mr. Grass’s poem with simplified lyrics on YouTube. “Israel, I love you, but don’t attack Iran,” he sings.

Mr. Eggert said he was trying to skewer both sides in the debate. While he said he did not like Mr. Grass’s poem, “it’s embarrassing the way the intellectuals try to paint him in the worst light possible.”

Mr. Grass’s critics hail mostly from the cultural and political elite, while his support appears to be far more broadly based — even if Mr. Grass is not himself seen as the best spokesman for that view, given his own Nazi past.

“The published opinions are all coming from the usual suspects,” said Claus Stephan Schlangen, one of the people behind a Facebook group formed in support of Mr. Grass’s poem. “People just don’t believe what the media is selling anymore.”

Mr. Schlangen is helping run a Facebook page called “Support Günter Grass — What Must Be Said.” The name is based on the title of the 69-line poem, which was published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung last week. In the poem, Mr. Grass, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999 and the author of the famous World War II novel “The Tin Drum,” said that Israel was a threat to world peace because of its warnings that it might attack Iran over its nuclear program.

The group’s page, which had more than 3,500 Facebook “likes” as of Thursday evening, shows a dove and Mr. Grass with his trademark pipe superimposed over the colors of the rainbow. “We say no to a war of aggression against Iran,” the text reads. Mr. Schlangen said that he and the site’s other manager policed the comments for anti-Semitic remarks, but that they just as often removed threatening language from Israel’s supporters.

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2 thoughts on “Once taboo, Germans’ criticisms of Israel grow louder

  1. Óscar Palacios

    Anti-non-semitism is happily beginning to back-fire, looks like. I don’t have all the time in the world to read every piece on the Grass controversy. But one thing which I haven’t found is the fact that Grass was hardly a die-hard Nazi. He tried to join the Kriegsmarine, was rejected, and then recruited to the Waffen SS. By late 1944 Germans were desperately trying to defend their country. Yes, we all know about their atrocities. But the Allies’ genocidal bombing of Germany is seldom worthy of mention, as if hapless civilians simply deserved to be burnt alive by incendiary bombs. Besides, from what I read, Grass served as a tank gunner (and not in the super-criminal Einsatzkommandos), and by this time in the war serving in the Waffen SS was almost like serving in a regular army unit.

  2. delia ruhe

    ‘“Israel has earned criticism,” he said, “but not on this level.”’

    You’ve got THAT right, Herr Avrihami. Such a mild-mannered poem should be entitled “What Needs to be Politely Said”. And it needs to be said on a much higher level — namely, the level of Germany’s political representatives. Instead, they sell submarines to Israel: “Here, Israel, go kill yourselves.” If Grass were an antisemite, he’d have written a poem with that title.

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